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10 Tips to Talk to your MD

10 Tips to Talk to your MD

Getting diagnosed with cancer and determining what course of treatment to pursue can be a very stressful and anxiety-ridden journey. It’s important to remember that your doctor is your best resource to help answer any questions specific to your diagnosis and treatment plan. However, often patients are overwhelmed and don’t know how to talk to their doctors or know the right questions to ask.

The nurse manager at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) Proton Therapy Center has seen her fair share of patients who fail to talk to their doctor regarding their diagnosis and treatment. Here are her tips to encourage a healthy dialogue and strong physician-patient relationship:

Ask questions.

Physicians really like when patients ask questions, as it helps them better understand what the patient wants to know. For example, some patients prefer more technical information; others like more summarized information. Although you may feel reluctant to ask questions, as if you are burdening your doctor, physicians feel much better when they can answer your questions and understand what is of concern to you.

Write down what you want to ask.

Sometimes it’s hard to remember what you were going to ask your doctor when you meet. Keep a list of questions and jot down any that occur to you when you are not at the appointment. That way, you can get your questions answered the next time.

Find a list of pre-drafted questions from reputable websites.

You might not even have the slightest clue on what questions to ask and that’s okay! Luckily, many reputable websites have pre-drafted questions that can help you gather your thoughts about what you may want to ask your doctors. Nccn.org has a great list.

Keep a binder and notebook during your treatment plan, and use a tape recorder, if necessary.

At SCCA Proton Therapy Center, we provide a binder at the beginning of your care that provides useful documents about the center and your treatment. You may want to keep a notebook to jot down questions or answers, or additional information your doctor shares with you. Some patients also tape-record their doctor, so they can replay the conversation after they leave the office. With so much on your mind, you might not always absorb what you are being told, so being able to fully listen to the recording later can be helpful.

Ask your doctor exactly what your diagnosis means, including stage and metastasis site.

Often patients don’t stop to understand what exactly their diagnosis is or what stage they are at. Ask your doctor right away so that he or she can explain what this means. Then you can research the specifics that relate to you, instead of going on the Internet and reading about other people’s experiences. Each diagnosis is different, and what makes sense for one patient doesn’t necessarily mean it makes sense for you.

When using the Internet to answer questions, only use reputable sources.

It’s very important to look at the quality of information you get from the internet. At SCCA Proton Therapy Center, we link to several reputable websites from our site. We refer our patients to recommendations that are vetted to be mainstream, evidence-based websites. These include cancer.gov (the National Cancer Institute), nih.gov (the National Institutes of Health) and nccn.org (the National Comprehensive Cancer Network). You can then write down any questions you have from these sites and take them to your physicians.

Get a copy of your pathology report.

Ask for a copy of your pathology report, as it’s helpful to understand more about your diagnosis and treatment plan. It can also be useful if you want to seek a second opinion.

Get a second opinion.

Getting a second opinion doesn’t mean you don’t trust your doctor. It means you may learn about different treatment options or can feel more confident about the prescribed treatment plan. Doing your research and getting more than one opinion regarding your diagnosis and treatment plan will help empower you.

Ask if there is a clinical trial or current research specific to your diagnosis.

Inquire about clinical trials or current research that is specific to your diagnosis. If so, you might be able to enter into the trial and help contribute to research findings. Clinical trials can also offer treatment options when others have been exhausted.

Ask follow-up questions regarding your treatment plan.

Ask all questions related to your treatment, such as what side effects you can expect and what you can do to make your treatment most effective.